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  • Angela Newton - C8 Associates

Whose Media Product Is It, Anyway?

The advent of digital has brought a host of marvellous things. Who knew content could be so interactive, responsive and tailored? Whatever your media, your customers no longer need to access it in a one dimensional way. And you can talk to them, respond to them – even watch and track them - as they use your product or service. The opportunities are virtually limitless; restricted only by technical capability (always evolving), law (fair enough) and your business capabilities.

But there-in lies the rub. Product managers always want their product to be bigger, sexier, more interactive and more innovative. It’s their role to know what their customers want, to scope out the opportunities, and to build a compelling business case.

But is it always clear who that person is? Since the advent of digital, the role of ‘product manager’ has become more formalised. No longer is it simply the go-to person who lives and breathes the product or service. It may not even be the person who does the day-to-day nurturing. In this new digital world, the ‘product manager’ is often a specific role recruited into the digital team, and it’s there to manage and arbitrate over what digital development should and shouldn’t get done.

As digital execution becomes intrinsically linked with the product or service itself, this creates a bit of a conundrum. Who owns the final say? Who should determine where the money goes – more content or more functionality? And who has the best customer insight into how that functionality will suit the target audience?

Depending on your career history, you will probably have a view on this. Those from traditional media backgrounds see product ownership in fairly simple terms. In the publishing sense, the book publisher owns responsibility for the content, the judgement in deciding to acquire the book and, by definition, the market insight on who the target readers are, and what they want. Just because those readers increasingly use a Kindle rather than a printed page, it doesn’t really alter the natural order of things. Similarly, the newspaper editor, magazine publisher or music producer – they think they own the ‘thing’, and the commercial decisions sitting behind it.

But what if your content now suits an app? Suddenly, you can add features and gizmos – you can make the content more interactive – and potentially appeal to a new or broader audience. So how do you know what features and gizmos will really appeal? How do you even know what’s technically possible – let alone desirable?

And then what about websites? What is the purpose here – to inform people and/or sell stuff? But what will make your website effective? How should you spend the money? And how do you get your ideas prioritised when there’s a queue for digital dev that seemingly runs to Timbuctoo and beyond.

As traditional product owners have become increasingly reliant on digital help, so the balance of power has shifted. Now, the digital people may be best placed to take a view on what should or shouldn’t be done to optimise content. They may hold the purse strings on how the cash is spent, and increasingly, they inform the product direction.

The perennial tug of war that often ensues is a tough one. With even the best inter-departmental relationships, there can still be friction. Who does know the audience best? Who should decide how the money is spent? And where does the buck stop?

And that friction can be heightened by management structures. Which team owns the overarching objectives? How integrated are the Editorial and Digital teams? Who is accountable for the product usage/sales/engagement? If it’s successful, everybody owns it, if it’s not well…. It’s obviously the other lot’s fault.

There are no clear answers to any of this. And the lines are only likely to become increasingly blurred. But here are a few tips for trying to anticipate the challenges, and create a platform for (relative) harmony:

Build clear job profiles

When you’re defining roles within your organisation look across all teams, as well as up and down within the immediate team. New roles, in particular, are often defined in isolation – the new starter then merrily turns up, full of fire and enthusiasm to deliver, only to inadvertantly traipse all over existing posts. Performance frameworks – for new roles and to replace existing ones – should always be reviewed with a global perspective of all teams and business activities.

Build shared objectives

Where teams overlap, make sure this is built into objectives, rather than swept under the carpet. Better to build some shared objectives, where stakeholders in 2 or 3 teams need to work together in order to achieve their personal success, than to encourage tribal wars by developing objectives in isolation. If success is dependent on collaboration, it helps filter out the everyday friction.

Review and refine – constantly

Digital doesn’t stand still. Products don’t stand still. And the responsibilities attached to delivering against them don’t stand still. Use performance reviews to see how the sands have shifted over the past 6-12 months, and to discuss what needs to be formally documented as a result. Like digital itself, it’s all “iterative”.

Don’t dodge the issues

When friction arises, deal with it. The worst examples of tensions bubbling are when managers resolutely tread their chosen path and drag the team with them – instead of taking stock and reviewing how to juggle the matrix.In summary, the age old battle lines within media businesses have been redrawn. No longer is it just Content and Sales teams fighting for custody - there’s another pretender to the throne called ‘Digital’. Of course, everybody essentially wants the same thing (success) but they won’t always agree on how that can be achieved. So the sooner all these teams are designed to work together, the sooner those businesses can cut the friction and focus on the important stuff.

Angela Newton is a C8 Associate with deep commercial experience in multi-channel creative businesses. If you would like to learn more about digital custody, contact her:!angela-newton/ksnto

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